PORTLAND, Ore. – It was going so well for the new-look Philadelphia Union.
But the Portland Timbers, previously reeling from a game where they were surprised by the performance of a team that underwent an offseason rebuilding project, pulled out some magic in the final moments, on a Gaston Fernandez goal off a 93rd-minute corner kick that gave the home team a share of the points in a 1-1 draw Saturday at a rainy and raucous Providence Park.
The Union were seconds away from escaping with a victory following a 64th-minute goal from Jack McInerney, also off a corner kick.
The arcs of the two teams coming into Saturday’s MLS season opener couldn’t have been more different.
The Timbers were the known quantity and even upped the ante with a few key additions to a squad coming off a highly successful season. The Union were the question mark, having endured an offseason rebuilding project after a disappointing 2013.
Yet it was the new-look Union who appeared to be the well-oiled machine, and the highly anticipated debut of Philly’s two new Designated Players – US international midfielder Maurice Edu and Argentine forward Cristian Maidana – certainly didn’t disappoint. Add in the playmaking of French midfielder Vincent Nogueira, another offseason acquisition, and the Union proved to be the more dangerous side, betrayed only by their one-goal haul.
It could have easily been much more.
It was Portland’s newcomers – Argentine forward Fernandez and center back Norberto Paparatto – who didn't grab the headlines right away in this match. Portland had the bulk of the possession and outshot Philly 15-10 but struggled to find a clean final touch and only managed two shots on target.
There was plenty of action to mark the first half.
From the opening kick Portland were on their front foot and nearly laid down an early marker in the fourth minute when a corner kick was headed onto defender Pa-Modou Kah at the far post, whose header hit the right post with goalkeeper Zac MacMath out of position.
Philadelphia nearly found pay dirt in the 20th minute when Maidana squared up a left-footed blast at the top of the area that required a diving save by Timbers goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts. The rebound fell to McInerney, who fired a blast just over the bar.
Then on a Philly counter in the 32nd minute, McInerney got Ricketts in his sights on a free run down the left wing, pulling the big ‘keeper off his line. McInerney chipped over Ricketts toward the open goal, but Paparatto was there to clear it off the line.
The Union continued to slice apart Portland’s defense after the break, and it finally paid off in the 64th minute.
With Philly pressing, Maidana worked into an open space at the top of the area and unleashed another blazing left-footed shot that was saved out by a diving Ricketts. But on the ensuing corner kick, Edu flicked a header across the goalmouth that McInerney headed home for the opening strike.
The game-tying corner kick came on a quick restart by team captain Will Johnson that took one touch before falling to Fernandez for the header goal.
The Timbers remain in the Rose City for their next matchup, Saturday against the Chicago Fire. Philly return home to take on the New England Revolution on the same day.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Maurice Edu||He had a tough battle in the midfield with Johnson and Chara, but more than held his own on his return to MLS|
|2||Norberto Paparatto||Could have scored at one point, but put in a good shift in defense and showed why he's been highly touted|
|3||Donovan Ricketts||Saved Portland's bacon several times with key saves, setting the scene for the dramatic equalizer|